With the media hype finally settling down after the burial of the ACF Chairman, Chief Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi and the attendant harvest of condolences carved in cadences of dirge, splashed here and there by Nigerians in their legendary adulation of the dead, comes a more poignant push to question the relevance of the ACF chairmanship to the people of Okun land and Kogi state, when there is no single federal high institution in Okun land (except the pitiable Federal Govt Girls College in Kabba), and no referral health institution of note (save the recent effort of Prof. Lambo’s recent intervention). The situation becomes even more pathetic for Awoniyi’s old Kabba province (which is the present day Kogi) when compared with other lesser provinces in the old northern Nigeria.
Kabba province, which was second, only to Kano province in terms of revenue, human resources and size, cannot today boast of a Federal University nor an appreciable federal presence in structures and facilities. How come after several years of faithful service to Sir Ahmadu Bello and other northern overlords, Awoniyi’s Kogi remains the 3rd poorest state in Nigeria (CBN statistics)? Of what tangible significance are the long years of service in the northern establishment and the ACF machinery to the thousands of Okun, nay Kogi youths who are wasting away in the desolate island of unemployment with educational paralysis rusticating their ideals?
To many keen followers of the political historicity of the fertile land that is safely tucked around the only confluence in Nigeria, Kogi represents a miniature Nigeria where three major ethnic groups (Igala, Ebira & Okun) hold the other minority groups in the state to the jugular in the Machiavellian shove of determining who gets what, when and how. One other similarity the state shared with Nigeria was that of the existence of a miniature trio of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the persons Dr. Steven Achema, Senator A.T Ahmed and Chief SB Awoniyi who all bestrode Kogi’s political firmament like inscrutable colossus of effervescent hue. These icons played prominent roles the creation of the state as well as its socio-political and economic development through their diverse interventions and active participation in governance issues.
Dr. Achema, just like the late sage, Chief Awolowo, was and still is the issue in Igala politics and with the Igalas constituting over 54% of the state, Achema has continued to regulate the political temperature of the confluence state even six years after he was sent to the great beyond in a largely suspicious auto crash. Senator A.T Ahmed on the other hand, epitomised (and still does) the totality of all ‘Ebiraness’. He was a mobile no-holds-barred encapsulation of all Ebira aspirations and up till now, the truest expression of the Ebira question remains contextualised within the formidable and impregnable A.T Ahmed machinery. Just like Achema, he too perished in a very controversial auto crash along the same Lokoja-Abuja road where Achema met his waterloo.
Chief Awoniyi on his own part, assumed naturally the political leadership of his people after an untainted stint in the public service of Northern Nigeria and then Nigeria. For his glorified relationship with Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Kogi west senatorial slot became his for the asking under the umbrella of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) in 1991. From this position, there was no looking back for the Aro of Mopa as he went on to form the PDP alongside Dr Achema in G34 and other and then went on to contest its national chairmanship and lost before becoming the Arewa Consultative Forum’s Chairman. Just like his two other peers, he too went the way of all mortals recently as a result of injuries sustained in an autocrash along Abuja-Kaduna road.
Having interacted closely with these three gladiators in their days of active political engagement, I cannot but point out the obvious fact that this threesome had an overflowing love for their kith and kin who in turn venerated them to high heavens as political demi-gods in Kogi state. Suffice it to add this nexus with their people contributed in small way to the conflictual nature of the relationship between these three men. Several indefatigable efforts made by Achema and A.T Ahmed to govern Kogi were met with frustration through the influence of Awonyi who honestly felt that it was his Okun people’s turn to govern the state since the Igalas had governed the state previously and the Ebiras had produced a Governor in the person Adamu Attah in the old Kwara state. This singular belief held by Awoniyi that power must be rotated among the ethnic groups in the state not minding their minority status propelled him to rally all the firepower in his arsenal to ensure the emergence of Dr. Steven Olorunfemi, a minority candidate from Okun land as the PDP Gubernatorial flagbearer in 1999 as against the hugely popular Achema in a primaries that reeked of intense manipulations.
With the battle line firmly drawn between Awoniyi and Achema and the latter subtly extending support to the opposition party, Awoniyi’s protégé lost the election to Achema’s ethnic brother, Prince Abubakar Audu. Not ready to swallow the defeat with equanimity, Awoniyi took the battle to Abuja where he rooted vigorously for the expulsion of Achema for anti-party activities and also ensured the exclusion of Achema’s name from the ministerial list and almost succeeded in deleting Achema’s name from the list of Special Assistants to the President before Obasanjo intervened by insisting that he needed stubborn people like Achema (who could ensure the defeat of an ‘almighty’ Awoniyi’s candidate) around him. With this insistence, another battle line was drawn, this time between Awoniyi and Obasanjo and Achema became handy in ensuring that Obasanjo’s candidate, Engr, Barnabas Gemade, gives Awoniyi a handsome beating in the race for national chairmanship of the party.
The first major casualty to be recorded in the power play for the soul of Kogi PDP was Dr. Achema who later died on his way to Lokoja for the State’s PDP congress. His absence notwithstanding, Achema’s camp eventually triumphed over Awoniyi’s camp by producing majority of the state EXCO and this victory eventually sealed Awoniyi’s political invincibility in the state as he was even at a point summoned to the party headquarters in the state to answer charges of anti-party activities. Coinciding with this string of events was the death of the then ACF Chairman, Alh. Abdulraham Okene, a Kogite of Ebira extraction, and with the then tidal rise in the clamour for total separation of the Middle Belt from the North and the need for an Obasanjo-hater to counteract Obasanjo/Danjuma’s preference for middle belt officers in the military’s high command, the northern oligarchy found in Awoniyi, a willing tool for the emasculation of all middle belt activism as well as total onslaught on Obasanjo.
Awoniyi’s performance was no doubt brilliant as he gave teeth to the hitherto rudderless ACF, rallying it against every obnoxious move of Obasanjo and this he did until he died on his way to a meeting in Kaduna bringing to a completion, Kogi’s break from the immediate past era where these three titans held sway as A.T Ahmed also died last year in an autocrash. Signs of an imminent end was initially sounded early this year when Awoniyi’s direct scion, Abayomi was roundly defeated by Smart Adeyemi in the Kogi west PDP senatorial primaries, thus signalling the emergence of a brand new era in Kogi politics that will hopefully be devoid of autocrashes! Rest on, our Bolorunduro!